Charleston or Savannah: Which City to Visit?


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Are you planning a trip to the South and wondering whether to visit Charleston or Savannah first?

I’ve visited these two beautiful cities and while they are close enough to each other to plan a trip that includes both, you may prefer to do as I did and spend more time in one…and then the other.

To help you decided which city to scratch off the list first, read about theirĀ  similarities and differences.

Charleston or Savannah title

Charleston or Savannah?

Both Charleston and Savannah are considered Jewels of the South. These coastal cities boast rich, complex histories, plenty of charm, amazing food experiences and a variety of tours and activities to enjoy. And, with local airports, they are easy to get to.

Below are similarities between the two cities and how they differ from each other too. Hopefully, by the end of the post, you’ll know whether Charleston or Savannah will be first on your travel list!

Similarities Between Charleston and Savannah

Both cities, part of the original 13 colonies, have long and fascinating histories. And, they both embrace Gullah and Geechee sea island cultures.

Beautiful architecture is found in both, with each city having a very walkable historic downtown area. Charleston and Savannah acknowledge their darker histories, and today share stories of how they owe their existence to the labor of enslaved people.

Lying along rivers that feed into the sea, both cities experience mild weather that can turn quite hot and humid during the summer months. (My tip: visit Charleston or Savannah in early spring or mid to late fall.)

The people in both cities are friendly and welcoming, practicing that famed southern charm and hospitality. And both cities felt very safe to me. I visited as a solo traveler and never felt concern.

You can wander down cobblestone streets, explore museums, visit a city market and take a walk along the waterfront in Charleston and Savannah.

Charleston or Savannah pineapple fountain
Charleston has its iconic Pineapple Fountain.
Charleston or Savannah forsyth fountain
Savannah’s iconic Forsyth Fountain

Differences Between Charleston and Savannah

Charleston is a bigger city than Savannah although their historic downtown area is smaller. You can easily walk that district in a day but you won’t want to rush! I recommend at least two days in Charleston and preferably three. Because Charleston is larger, prices are slightly higher for accommodations there.

And with Savannah’s bigger historic district, it takes more time to explore. I’d recommend three days here as well, to see everything.

Charleston has its South of Broad neighborhood to wander, with narrow streets, gorgeous homes and historic churches and buildings. Savannah features 22 squares set up in a grid across the historic district. You’ll want to stroll down Jones Street as you explore the city. It’s considered the prettiest street in Savannah.

Charleston or Savannah south of broad
Gorgeous homes in Charleston’s South of Broad neighborhood.
Charleston or Savannah squares
Columbia Square in Savannah.

Getting Around Charleston and Savannah

If you get tired from all that walking, you can rely on the transportation systems in both cities. Charleston has a free hop on/hop off shuttle that covers the entire historic district. Savannah has it’s free hop on/hop off trolley system as well. Neither offer information from a guide as you wheel around the city.

I loved Savannah’s paid trolley tour that offers 15 stops throughout the historic district. Charleston offers paid guided tours as well however I don’t believe you can get on and off at different stops.

Charleston or Savannah shuttle
Charleston’s free downtown hop on/hop off shuttle.
Charleston or Savannah trolley
Savannah’s paid guided hop on/hop off trolley tour.

Which City is the Most Haunted?

According to NBC, Charleston ranks number 7 as most haunted city in the US and Savannah is number 1!

Both cities offer amazing ghost tours with stories from their complicated pasts. I enjoyed doing night time ghost tours in each city. Many of Charleston’s buildings, homes and cemeteries have hair raising tales connected to them.

However, Savannah truly can offer a ghost story about most locations in the historic district, including the squares, buildings and houses around the squares, restaurants and cemeteries.

It’s no surprise Charleston and Savannah rank in the top 10 for most haunted city. Battles were fought in both places. Diseases such as yellow fever struck down many during muggy summers. And both cities dealt with pirates!

As one who senses spirit energy, I found Savannah to be the spookier city. Charleston for sure has its haunted spots. However, it seems that everywhere you go in Savannah there is a ghostly vibe. I had paranormal experiences in both cities but they were more frequent and stronger in Savannah.

Charleston or Savannah haunted theatre
Haunted Dock Street Theatre in Charleston.
Charleston or Savannah haunted Andrew Low House
Haunted Andrew Low House in Savannah.

Charleston or Savannah for Culinary Experiences?

In Savannah you’ll find traditional southern dishes. However there are also some trendy restaurants and fairly robust vegan options. Leopald’s Ice Cream, a favorite on Broughton Street since 1919, is a must visit. They even offer dairy free ice cream.

Charleston has 10 James Beard awarded restaurants around the city. They offer traditional southern fare as well however expect to find more sophisticated offerings here. Plant based meals are easy to find in Charleston too although I couldn’t find a place for afternoon tea while I was there.

And while Charleston edges Savannah out on cuisine, Savannah definitely wins on drinks and nightlife. From pub tours to live music venues to being able to legally carry open alcoholic drinks within the confines of the historic district, Savannah makes good on their promise to get a drink into your hands as part of their hospitality.

Charleston or Savannah vegan charleston
Vegan Charleston
Charleston or Savannah vegan savannah
Vegan Savannah

Which City Should You Visit?

My answer is…both!

I visited Charleston first, due to falling in love with the city through Karen White’s Tradd Street series. (Get the first book in the series HERE.) And Charleston will always have a special place in my heart for being the destination of my first big solo trip. I enjoyed the city so much that I returned just six months later for another visit.

And I love Savannah as well. The energy is a bit different there. The city’s historic district feels more sprawled out and I made more use of the hop on/hop off trolleys. I enjoyed the 22 beautiful and unique squares and discovering the stories behind their creation. I will return to this city someday soon to explore more.

Have you visited Charleston and Savannah? And if you haven’t, which city would you visit first?

Fun Things to Do in Charleston

Fun Things to Do in Savannah


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